Get Seen in Search

What companies should do in the face of voice search

Monday, 23 April 2018
the rise of voice search and reviews

Let’s look at some numbers.

According to an Amazon Press Release, Amazon sold “millions more devices” worldwide in 2017 compared to last year’s season and mentioned that its best selling device was The Echo Dot. The press release also mentioned that millions shopped with Alexa and that Alexa usage on Fire TV was up 889%.

It was also found that sales for Amazon’s Echo grew 5x from Q3 2016 to Q4 2017.

So Amazon’s doing well. What about Google?

They announced, in a blog post, that since October, they have “sold more than one Google Home device every second.” If The Verge did their math correctly, that amounts to over 6M devices by early January. Looks like Google's doing well too.

And if we consider Apple’s iPhone products, HomePod, and the number of Android Devices carrying Google Now, we start to get clear on what’s happening with consumers and search.

Voice is getting big. Real big.

22% of consumers are already using voice assistants to help them make purchases and while voice takes up 20% of all searches, a sizeable amount, it’s estimated that by 2020, voice will make up 50% of all voice searches.

What does this all mean for you, exactly?

We have just the webinar to show you.

In this exclusive conversation, Jason Barnard, SEO extraordinaire, and Chee Lo, Head of SEO at Trustpilot, will walk you through the rise of voice search, voice assistants, and what that means for SEO and AEO - answer engine optimization.

It’s a brand new space that presents a major opportunity for any company, large or small. The world of voice search is changing quickly and affecting SEO. We have some excellent tips to show you how you can prepare for the rise of search while improving your SEO now.

Check the webinar out below.

With Answer Engine Optimization being new, this presents opportunities for early adopters to benefit, and Chee Lo, Head of SEO at Trustiplot, will share tips and insights in preparing for answer engine optimization.

Jason Barnard, SEO and SEA consultant, author and conference speaker, will also be sharing his knowledge.

The rise of AEO

Voice assistant usage is on a rise. Research from Google tells us that 40% of the British population use voice search daily. This compares to 25% four years ago. Another piece of research found that engagement with Alexa which is Amazon's voice assistant, and Cortana, Microsoft's own voice assistant both increased over 300% in a year. These numbers are pretty significant and go to show that voice assistant usage is growing fast.

All of desktop, mobile and voice platforms will coexist, but they will all evolve towards the idea of providing a definitive answer to each individual user at a given moment. What Google calls micro moments. So, although we will still have desktop search and we still have mobile search and the top results will still matter, we're ending up with a situation where all these motors, Google, Bing are trying to give us a definitive answer where we no longer need to actually choose for ourselves.

It's important to note that Alexa and Cortana are powered by Bing, so although today Google is the really big player and it's the one we all think about, Bing is likely to make quite a comeback. So we need to actually think about motors answer engine rather than just thinking about Google as we do today.

So we're really going to see in the near future how voice will affect SEO and the way how search engines work.

How AEO will impact SEO

A normal regular query normally carrying out on your mobile device, tablet or desktop is often very short, more specific and often standalone statements. For example, best android phone, or email marketing software. It's very succinct, usually consists about three to five words and gets straight to the point.

Voice search queries take advantage of the fact that we're saying our query, so they tend to be longer, usually poses questions. Depending on what you're searching for, they're often tied to a location so you would ask something like where is the nearest pizza place? Or where is the best coffee? You show around more.

Google needs to take into consideration your location in order to return the most relevant results to whatever service that you're looking for. This matters a lot, not only for location based searches, but whenever you're searching for anything. So if you're looking for an android phone, your voice query might be what's the best android phone for 1,000 pounds? What is the best android phone for my needs? I can rely Google to return a price, a make, a model, etc.

However, if anyone else were to ask Google the same question, Google would return very different results to them. This is based on Google knowing who I am, what my habits are from my past searches and past behavior on Google products to give me the correct answer for that particular query.

Google is making the results specific to each individual user. Even now when you search on a desktop, you will get specific results that are based on your search history, your location, your language and so on and so forth.

Today, you still choose from those answers whereas tomorrow, Google will present you with the right answer for you at that moment. Whilst again, the micro moments and that's very important where Google is concentrating on individual users at a given time in a given situation and given context, what is the correct answer? And we're saying correct, we're saying definitive correct right perfect answer for me. I do not need to choose, Google knows what's best for me. Which is slightly scary, but I suspect we're all going to get very comfortable with that and we're going to end up trusting Google or Bing if we're using Alexa.

As we move forward, when we're looking for the right answer, companies need to make sure they are the correct answer for me, that Google can return me.

When it comes to answer engines, you really just have one answer. If the initial answer is wrong, then maybe your option is to provide more. Often these key phrases have lower search volume, but much higher intent. Queries are becoming more and more specific and the answers are becoming more and more specific too. And it's very important to bear in mind that if Google is to give a specific answer, it needs very specific detailed information in order to be able to present it.

I mean, the example of the pizza, if somebody types, I'd like a pizza, easy. If they say, I would like the cheapest pizza in the area, Google needs to know what the prices of the pizzas are in the given... in the pizza shops around. If they say I want pepperoni pizza, it would be really helpful if Google knew the menu, and if you ask for a pepperoni pizza and it knows that one pizzeria does it, but it's sure the other does, it will present the one it knows offers pepperoni pizza. That's the idea of specifics.

So, we're now looking at a very different strategy to SEO whereas SEO, you're aiming to rank on the top page. In AEO to get to that top spot, Google needs to understand and be sure it's understood what it is you're offering. Specifics.

To give a little more foundation or knowledge about what AEO is and how it's changing things, we're going to move into the next section, the shifting landscape of search engines.

The shifting landscape of search engines

So, with AEO, there are some rules to note and we go into some of these in a bit more depth later. So, position zero is the new page one. When it comes to answer engines, there is no page one. When you're making a voice query, you're only going to get one result. So when you're optimizing for AEO, that's the mindset you should be working towards.

Communication and credibility are very important. This not only applies to AEO, but SEO in general. We're getting to that a little bit later, why credibility and communication is so important. Localization is key, that is something that we talked about before. If your voice query does not include local intent, near me or by me, Google by knowing who you are is already returning results to you based on your location.

And then AEO requires a strategy which sounds like an obvious statement. I guess SEO can be seen as a tactics based approach where you're just taking specific tactics to improve your online presence. But AEO will require a strategy. So it's more than just about specific tactics, but more about the holistic vision in how you approach AEO.

Now, imagine the pepperoni pizza again... It's understood that two pizzerias offer that pepperoni pizza, it will send you to the one that it feels is the most credible. And that depends on the judgment of how people have perceived you. Google needs to understand you in order to even consider you, and once it's considered you, it has to believe that you are credible in order to actually offer you as the answer.

We're looking at a new optimization strategy and luckily, it's the same for everybody which is really good news. It involves buildings understanding and building credibility. And just to be very, very clear, we're not saying only optimize for answer and answer engines. You must continue to optimize for search engines because desktop and mobile will continue to exist alongside the answer engines.

However, starting today, building for answer and engine optimization is vital in order to survive in a world where voice will take a bigger part of the market.

Communicating to educate

I think what we often to fail to really understand is the information on the web is very fragmented. It's often inaccurate and it's not practical at all for a machine to digest. I was developing some HTML5, some semantic HTML5 in order to better present the information the Google and it's astonishing how differently different websites are coded. The HTML is very different, it's very difficult for a machine to actually collect the information and understand it.

So, Google has managed to accumulate a vast amount of information line, after line, after line, billions and billions and billions of lines of data, but it's having enormous trouble organizing the data, confirming its veracity, and understanding the relationships between different entities. And entity being a company, a place, a person.

So, we have the data... it has the data, but it does not have understanding. So our job on a very small micro level is to ensure that Google understands. If I want it to understand my company, I have to give it the company. I give it the information and then it's up to Google to go and check that what I'm saying is true.

So, the strategy of AEO starts with the idea of making sure that Google understands. Now HTML5, I mentioned it earlier is a very, very, very powerful method. Basically, it divides the page up into sections and section has a specific role that is identified in a standard manner so Google can ignore the header, ignore the footer, ignore additional information and it can pull straight on the heart of the content.

Schema markup, structured markup, incredibly important because it's basically presenting the information that the page contains in a format that Google can really easily digest and it can be confident that it's understood. As I said, you give it the information, you're the best source for information about yourself, as long as you don't lie you're fine. Google will go out and check it. So if you lie, it will catch you out.

We're in a situation where simply telling it what we do without going into the idea of saying how wonderful we are, we just say what we do, we give all the details we came... coming back to the pizzas, if we do pepperoni pizza, it's a really good idea to tell Google we do pepperoni pizza because one day somebody will search for pepperoni pizza and that one client will come to you and not to your competitor.

So, start by thinking of how you're communicating with Google. Start by saying on your side what it is you do in detail, accurately, Google will go and check it. Once it's understood you, it can offer you as a potential answer.

Building credibility with search engines

We're going to be talking about credibility which ensures that Google's presenting you for the right results. Once you've ticked the boxes for some of the tactics on the previous section, how can you ensure Google picks you for... to answer that query?

Once Google's understood you, what you do, so your credibility will give them confidence that you can actually provide the solution to the user. I think it's important to remember that when somebody asks a question, whether they type it or whether they speak it, they're asking for a solution to a problem, or the answer to a question. And Google's aim and Bing's aim is to give them access to that answer or that solution as quickly as possible. So their aim is to put the best at the top.

So once it's understood that you are able to provide the answer or the solution. If it's confident that you're a credible solution, it will put you at the top. We use the term brand authority, that's replacing domain authority if anybody has studied SEO a little bit they'll know that domain authority is based on links. It's a very simplistic and out of date idea. It was very useful for many, many years, but the idea that Google only relies on links today is false.

Google relies on links, obviously still, but also mentions. As long as it's understood who you are, it can link a mention of your brand name to you. And what we're now starting to call is linkless links which is a little bit silly, but it says what it says.

And then positive feedback from clients. Obviously, review platforms, but also social media, a buzz around your brand, if the buzz is positive that's obviously a very strong signal to Google. From what I understand, Google manages to crawl about 30% of Facebook. So it doesn't get it all, but it gets a good part of it and it gets a good idea of what people are saying about you, and how positive it is.

So, understanding plus credibility gives brand authority. If you don't improve your brand authority, your mid to long term AEO strategy is doomed to failure.

This means reviews come into play, social media comes into play. Even if there's no link associated, if you are taking the time and effort to communicate in the right way, you will be successful.

So this is something Trustpilot recently added, has there been new research that shows that the quantity of reviews actually matter a lot. Not only for search engines, but also to consumers as well. So consumers are now really just valuing how many times a company has a served any consumer. And we're seeing that by consumers that they prefer a company with a lower rating with more reviews that a company with higher ratings with fewer reviews. And we've seen this behavior repeated in search results as well.

Reviews are powerful, and so are mentions, as long as Google has understood who you are, so we come back to this idea of communicating to Google who you are. And make sure, or try to make sure, or try to encourage mentions in a relevant context, on relevant sites, and make sure they're positive. Obviously your credibility depends on all of this feedback being positive.

So, we've talked about how SEO is changing and AEO is changing. Okay, now what can I do about it? So, we still want to continue to stress the value of SEO even though AEO does matter and more every day, but that doesn't mean forget about SEO. Companies should still be using SEO tactics and thinking about AEO as they work on their SEO strategy.

For example, having great HTML alt tags for images, we're communicating to Google in the right way providing structured data markup so that machines can understand context of our content better, building links subsequently using brand mentions. So a brand mention from the BBC website can be extremely powerful and positive for you.

Experimenting with voice search

For the purpose of AEO, because this is new and we're entering unchartered territory, you have to experiment and experiment while Google voice search is still in its infancy. Google's still doing a lot of figuring it out, and it doesn't always get it 100% right with AEO.

However, companies should be working on identifying key phrases and key voice searches that are relevant to you and are working well. And make sure that you put yourself in the position where you can do things quickly.

Typically, small to medium size businesses can move a lot fast than enterprise level businesses. That means you can capitalize on AEO much faster than large corporations.

Sure, interestingly the AEO tends to give an advantage to niche markets and local businesses. Smaller improvements will give much bigger results. So if you're in a niche market or you're a local business, this can be very, very beneficial. I'm sorry to come back to the pizza example again, but the pizza business who has communicated both what it does, what it offers, and its credibility is going to benefit greatly through a good AEO strategy especially in local search.

You can communicate to educate. This is my favorite topic at the moment. Semantic HTML5 and structured markup. Semantic HTML5 is very, very, very powerful. Surprisingly so. Fairly simply to implement. If you don't know who semantic HTML5 is, I'll explain very quickly.

HTML is what allows the navigator, the computer to actually show the content, it's the design, it's the layout. Semantic HTML5 indicates the role that each path plays in the page, so a header, a footer, a navigation, additional information and the main content. I've implemented that for several clients and we always see a slight boost in rankings in the short term. So it's not only long term, it's also a short term advantage.

Schema markup is simply the content of your page presented in a manner that Google can understand, in its native language if you like. Once again, with my clients, when we implement it, we get short term gains as well as making sure that we're ready for the answer engines, when they take over the search environment.

Then we move onto credibility, third parties who confirm that you're credible. The word that I think is important here is trusted. If Google trusts the third party and the third party says that you're good, or that you're credible or that you prove a good service, it will obviously take that much more seriously than if it doesn't trust review platforms. Some are more trustworthy than others. There are mentions, links, reviews, feedback, buzz. As long as it's relevant and positive, that's all obviously very important.

Informing Google

Earlier on, we were talking about saying what we do, informing Google of what we do. There's also the idea of confirmation which I mentioned but I didn't go into detail. Wikidata is a very important source for Google. Wikidata is basically the database behind Wikipedia. Google will go and check in wikidata and in fact, ironically, you can actually add yourself to wikidata, so you can confirm yourself on a trusted third party.

Crunchbase, if you haven't heard of it, is an American site. Google trusts it and same thing, you can add yourself. Government sites, typically very trusted. Business association, people forget that. In your niche, we come back to the word niche, you don't need an article on the BBC. You can get an article on a website that's specifically about your business. Pizza monthly for example. And niche brands, other brands within your niche.

So, you don't need to think big. You don't need to think BBC. You don't need to think ITV or the Guardian. You can look to niche brands who confirm and credibilize what it is you're doing.

Once again, we're not saying drop SEO. We're saying that it changes, and when it changes, we're looking at answer engine optimization. And SEO tactics serve your answer optimization. Valid HTML is very important for SEO, and it's actually simply makes communication better. It means you're communicating more clearly with Google. The quality of your content and the fact that that content is relative, very important. Once again, you're communicating. You're communicating what it is your brand message is, what it is you do, and that you're an expert. The site speed which seem to not be related, but it is because a website that is fast is a website run by brand that is credible.

Alt tags, once again, we're communicating. When you put alt tags on your images, you're communicating with Google. The more you can communicate, the better. Links, obviously building credibility.

Building brand authority

Now we'll talk about brand authority, credibility, and understanding. I'm putting it all together.

As mentioned earlier, understanding plus credibility equals brand authority. Google can really only apply those credibility signals that it gets, the mentions, the reviews, the links, if it understands your brand, who you are, and what you do. You want to communicate and you want to protect and promote your brand. It's the single most important thing in AEO and in SEO. But in SEO, it tended to get a little bit forgotten by a lot of people. So communicating around your brand, protecting it and promoting it is incredibly important.

All the efforts that you do here, everything you manage to do successfully in building your brand authority, will help improve your other marketing channels. And with, we wanted to understand who Google learns and how it assesses credibility. So we asked it. Basically what we did is we through search queries at it, as I said something like 10 million results, and saw what it through back for brand searches... searches around brands to see how well it's understood and how credible it thinks the brand is.

Then we also asked its knowledge graph. It's knowledge graph actually has an API, so we can see what's in the knowledge graph and what isn't in the knowledge graph. And now is a little tool where you can play and you can type a name in. If you type in Britney Spears, it shows you what it knows about Britney Spears and it gives you a relevancy score which is basically how confident it is that it's understood who that person is. She gets a relevancy score of about 1,000.

If you type in Trustpilot, you get a relevancy score of about 100. Companies tend to have lower scores, relevancy scores in the knowledge graph than human beings. But that's because human beings tend to be more... how can I put it? More... they communicate in a single manner. People talk about Britney Spears within a specific context much more than they do about Trustpilot for example. Google tends to be confident about rock stars, film stars, politicians because the information is very much more... much better presented in general.

So now we've built by asking Google what it thinks about brands, what it understands about brands. We've built up a great understanding about answer and optimization, and more importantly, how brands can get ahead in this field.

Basically, we looked at understanding, we looked at what the presence in the knowledge graph is, talking about Britney Spears, the relevancy of the results that Google returns for the brand, and Google's capacity to categorize.

Categorizing is one of the hardest things to do. It seems very easy, but once you try and categorize in a large scale, it's very difficult. And Google's capacity to do that is surprisingly good.

The credibility, we measured the quality of the results that Google sends back for brand searches, the reviews Google returns for the brand opinion searches. So if you search for brand plus review, see what comes up. If it's good, that's obviously great. If it's bad, ask yourself why. Is it because your service is bad or is it that Google has misunderstood? If it's misunderstood, correct it.

And then last, but not least of course, the level and the sentiment of the buzz around the brand. Obviously, chat along Twitter is very, very important, Facebook, but also press, keeping it positive. We measure what people are saying about you and what Google perceives people to be saying about you which is more important still.

So once again, the onus is on brands to communicate what they do, how they do it, the details of what they do and ensure that Google understands that they're credible.

Google and reviews

So we're going to be talking about the intersection between reviews and search engines. When we're talking about communication and understanding, reviews provide benefits on both sides. When you're putting reviews on your site, you're communicating to Google what it is you do and who you are and how you provide values to consumers. And reviews themselves, if they're on third party sites like ourselves, Trustpilot, those are those positive mentions that we talked about before, how to add to your brand reputation.

I systematically advise my clients to get a paid review platform, one that's accepted by Google simply because first of all, it is a Google Review Partner, which means you can acquire stars in the search results, and as an SEO consultant, I know that helps click-through rate and increased click-through rate improves your ranking. But also, I do add some AdWords, safe money on AdWords. You get a higher click through rate, your quality score goes up, Google will give you that top spot for less money.

And the last one which is my favorite is that in the long term, it builds your brand authority and that increased brand authority is going to help you in the long term. So reviews get you short term benefits, but also long term benefits.

So, if you're asking yourself okay, yes I want reviews. Yes, I'm looking for third-party reviews, bring up the question which review platform is the best for SEO and AEO?

I used SEMrush, which I mentioned earlier on, and measured the relevant SEO strength of different platforms in the UK and America.

I measured the amount of traffic, the number of key words, the SEO rank and the value. Now, the value of the traffic is how much advertisers would be willing to pay for that amount of traffic. And we see here obviously, is Trustpilot is way ahead of the field, in both markets.

The other platforms are credible and they're absolutely fine. The study here was to see if you want an SEO boost, which is the platform that will bring you those results. And the answer was very clearly, Trustpilot.

The interesting thing that I find with my clients is some of them take different platforms such as verified reviews, but when a client takes Trustpilot, I can almost always guarantee that when you do a search on their brand name, Trustpilot will come up on that first page. And very interesting for them is that they then own two places on the first page, their own site and the Trustpilot site. That tends not to be true with the other platforms.

So, I'm going to briefly mention why Trustpilot does really well when it comes to SEO. We have a highly credible consumer site with high SEO authority. Our integrations and our brand to communicate to search engines in a right way.

On Moz, a popular search blog, they list Trustpilot at 197th out of a list of 500 local websites. And we have decent levels of traffic and know that the consumers keep their business with revisiting the site often.

So, a little bit more about Trustpilot by numbers. So, we have over 100 million reviews on our website. And this is why we have strong brand credibility and authority.

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